Edited By

by TheBandBrony

Chapter 1: 908

Edited By

The sound of a unicorn's horn repeatedly striking into an aged oak-wood desk drew Spike down the stairs of his library home and towards Twilight’s study room. Still clutching the hefty beast of a book he was about to reshelve, the dragon gulped, skipping two steps down at a time. He was much more worried about the perpetrator's loud assault than anything else.

The cause of all the painful-sounding noise, he remembered, was undoubtedly the newest write-up his adoptive sister had been working on, stressing herself into a coma over for the past few days after the Manehatten Archival branch had contacted her, requesting her to review some obscure and drab book for some meaningless reason. Apparently, however, it held the key to some even more cryptic scientific data. She couldn't really focus on anything else except the occasional cup of coffee and, after some tense negotiations, the plush thread of a pillow.

The research itself had gone rather well. She had even allowed Spike to help, but only because she needed a courier to ferry the necessary materials needed to quench her thirst for knowledge, and to a lesser extent, caffeine. Obediently hesitant, but respectfully, he acquiesced to her demands, delivering to her an ever-increasing river of strong black coffee in the hopes that the sooner she got this project over with, the sooner she would be able to relax.

Maybe then, Celestia willing, her monthly java ration would last to its intended expiration date. Though Spike wouldn't get his hopes up for such a lofty goal. At least, not yet.

A particularly sharp crunch made Spike wince. She couldn’t have been doing this for any less than several minutes, patiently waiting for her bodily pain gauge to go off and stop her from doing any further damage to herself. Thankfully, she had a much more reliable gauge striding on miniscule legs towards her sanctum, shoulders cringing in silent but well noticeable alarm with each hit.

For the briefest of moments, the dragon wondered what had aggravated Twilight to the point that she would abuse the innocent desk in such a way. It couldn't have been trouble with her experiments on the vague topic of interest—the distinct lack of sulfuric mist or poisonous fog and explosions relayed that joyful message quite clearly.

If it wasn't dangerous experimentation that pulled her mind through the thorny, jagged edges of insanity, it had to have been the eternal foe of Twilight's abiding analytical and calculating mind—the sole aspect of the scientific approach that challenged her criminally underdeveloped creative side.

As if it wasn't enough that Twilight couldn't write a single sentence of prose to save her life, the Archives had requested an entire documentation on the subject, written to be as aesthetically pleasing as possible without turning into an adjectively sloppy mess of modern literature that they had taken to looking down upon with such fervent disdain. Her faith in herself had dipped to an all time low with each passing moment. Her parchment remained blank even as her undying appreciation for novelists and writers soared, and the poor, innocent desk suffered the tortuous consequences of her supposed inadequacy to a steady, but for the most part, upbeat tempo.

“The symphony of writer's block,” Spike whispered to himself, a wee smirk showing but unseen by his obviously exhausted friend. Opening the door, he silently prayed that he wouldn't find another fresh divot carved out of the ridiculously dented desk.

Twilight herself wasn’t really all that worn out. After all the time she had spent locked away, her mane would usually liken more to a bird’s frazzled nest than an actual hairstyle. Spike noted, through the haze, that it still amazingly retained the same basic shape it normally did despite all the slamming she had done. The compulsive twitch in her leg dangling off the chair still beat at a regular, healthy rhythm, a swinging metronome with which her pounding head kept in sync. Aside from a stray vein glowing against her pupils, hinting at a lack of twenty minute cat-naps that usually came about whenever the unicorn’s brain overloaded and shut down, she appeared quite normal.

Then again, it wasn’t Twilight worrying him. She dragged herself into a comatose state of learning similar to this every other week, and Spike had learned the telltale signs of self-induced stress. The displeasing fluctuations that could spell disaster if not properly countered always placed him in an upsetting mood. No, his worries rested with the desk.

Thankfully, her fanatic percussion solo hadn't done any noticeable damage to the lacquered old table, save another bruising gash notched into its surface, identical to the rest in angle and depth, indicative of a single suspect. He remembered, for the briefest of moments, the first time he had found a blemish in the otherwise perfect desk. The battle between him and the groove that followed would be a worthy addition to any history book.

“Twilight.” Spike knew by now that subtlety and gentle words would get him about as far as an earth pony could fly. “You’re hurting yourself over a paper that won’t be due for another three and a half weeks. Would you give the poor desk a break already?”

A pair of bloodshot eyes turned their furious stare towards him. Her stare, wild and overly scornful, forced the feelings of extenuating fear upon his small and innocent frame. “Give the desk a break? The desk? What about me? What about my needs? Ugh, why is all this happening to me?”

Spike almost flinched at the verbal barrage, but stood his ground, finally used to the overdramatic mare’s outbursts. He knew all too well that this little spat was only the tip of the proverbial iceberg, cruising towards him at breakneck speeds to bury him under a sea of pessimism and writer’s remorse.

"Twilight, you need to calm down, alright? Deep breaths—come on, do it with me." He braced his claws on her hunched shoulders, only to note with the slightest hint of worry that she shivered ever so slightly. "In... and out. In... and out."

Twilight's pathetic attempt at therapeutic deep-breathing only served to ratchet up the intensity of her gasps. They grew erratic, almost spastic until they finally cracked, caving to a series of whimpering mewls. She buried her head into the desk one final time and kept it there, groaning into the wood.

"Uh'm uh fuhlure."

"Twilight, I can't understand you."

The unicorn picked her head up just enough for Spike to see a fine, teary gloss overtaking her eyes. "I'm a failure... I'm going to botch this paper, and all the ponies at the Archive are going to hate me, and they'll ban me forever from accessing their books, and then I won't be able research any of my future papers, and then Princess Celestia will give me that stern, disappointed look she gives bad ponies when I have to admit to her that I haven't done my homework on time, and u'll hmmuhm hnmm..."

Gently, like a mother lowering a foal into its crib at night, Spike placed Twilight's head back down onto the desk, muffling the rest of her rant. With his hands freed from comforting his distraught compatriot, he nursed his temples in a fruitless attempt to massage away an impending headache.

Sometimes, he wondered why he bothered to try. Even with all the comforting words he offered and cups of relaxing tea he could brew, Twilight still blocked his kindness out, as though he was just making things worse for her. Every time she discovered a misplaced comma or passively voiced sentence, she’d behave like it meant instantaneous failure upon presentation. Her natural urge to beat the potential grammatical errors out of her head drove more than just herself bonkers whenever she proofread her own stuff.

"Twilight, you need to think rationally. You know how much you love thinking rationally."

From under the mass of quivering, purple melancholy came a weak agreement.

"Now use that rational brain of yours,” Spike continued, “and think. How long does it normally take you to write an essay like this? Two, three days? So you're a little behind—what does it matter when you have weeks to get it finished?"

Evidently, his disregard for the carefully crafted schedules in Twilight's mind, which she failed to follow, did not at all please the battered unicorn.

"'What does it matter’? What does it matter? Spike, if I don't get this done, I'm going to have to push back the rest of my work until I can finish this. Even if I tried to push this aside and work on something else, it would eat away at me. I'm working on it right now, and it's still turning me into a nervous wreck." Slumping in her seat, she added, "I just want to get this done so I can get on with my life."

Spike never ceased to wonder how seeing this particular brand of despair riddle Twilight’s confidence with holes could make his heart sink so effectively. Cautiously, he patted Twilight on the back—an awkward but not unappreciated gesture of pity.

“Hey, take it easy, Twi. I’ve read every last one of your essays, and they’ve all turned out fantastic—even when you write them in one of your moods.”

A weak huff was more than sufficient to convey her contempt and skepticism. “You’ve read all of them because I made you quintuple check them for misplaced modifiers, and it doesn’t help that I can’t seem to write when I’m in ‘one of my moods’.”

For a moment, the dragon contemplated heaping on undue amounts of compliments, if not just to end the poor pony's self-induced suffering. He quickly tossed the idea out, though—Twilight Sparkle was not a pony who let others’ outlandish praise blind her own sharpened eye for detail. Besides, what was the use of kind words if it only encouraged a bad habit?

One single glimpse of Twilight’s lifeless eyes scanning the paper, searching for words as if they had been there all along only to disappear on the cusp of her own reality, made a string of confidence-boosting comments all but leap from his mouth.

Oh well. A little bit of well deserved praise never hurt.

“Don’t think on the negative side like that. It’ll only get you down. Just think back to all the essays you wrote in the past. Every last one of them is awesomer than Rainbow Dash with flaming wings, and as factual as a textbook. Who wouldn’t be proud of that?”

Flailing frustratedly, she replied, "But it’s not enough to them that it’s factual. No, they say it has to be interesting, too. ‘Aesthetically pleasing,’ they said.”

Thankfully, only her falling hooves pounded on the table this time. "Science is interesting! They’re a group dedicated solely to its advancement in our modern day culture, for pete’s sake, why wouldn’t they think it’s already interesting? What do they want me to do, set it to a fireworks display?”

“Twilight, you're going to bore a hole right through that desk and into the center of the earth if you keep doing that."

"Good. At least then the Archives would have something interesting to study."

She flinched at the bitter taste of her own words. Her shoulders rose as she arched her back and stretched, hoping to reinvigorate her worn muscles as much as her stale pessimism.

"How did F. Scott Fitzmareald do it?” she called out to nopony in particular. “How did Christopher Buckley do it? How did all the famous writers do it? They could write twenty terrible stories and nopony would give a care in the world, but they write one good book and everypony turns them into a prophet of knowledge that is supposed to transcend pony imperfection—all just because they wrote a darn book. Ponies expect them to keep topping themselves over and over with these epic magnum opera until they’re all but bleeding out their ears from all the introspective wonder that’s supposedly jammed into their brains."

“Are you really trying to compare yourself to F. Scott Fitzmareald? Twilight, you’re a good writer, but you're not even writing the same type of literature that F. Scott Fitzmareald was. He was—”

“One of the greatest authors of all time, yes,” she finished for him. “However, that isn’t the point! You said that all my past essays were wonderful, and that’s great, but do you know how much pressure your praise—everypony’s praise, for that matter—puts on me? The applause I get whenever my name is mentioned at a historical summit, or the stares that get aimed at me when some professor singles me out in a crowd for my stellar fact-checking, or the smiles and hoofshakes that I receive at after parties from simple-minded socialites who think me a Goddess just because I can think critically—all build up on my shoulders like wet snow on a roof during winter. I don’t know if it’s going to be the deafening roar of ponies that expect more out of me with every passing minute or the whisper of a quill writing something that I know from the start won’t please them that will finally bury me.”

Her shaking intensified. “I have to do better than the last one—I have to improve on it. It’s not just my perfectionist nature that’s making me think that. If I don’t keep one-upping myself, I’m a talentless hack who got lucky stringing a couple of scientific words together. If I do, then the whole cycle repeats itself.”

She threw her forelegs up in defeat. “Quite frankly, I don’t know which one’s worse.”

Frowning, Spike tapped his claws against the wooden desk, careful not to leave even more scratches in its already battle-scarred surface. "Well, I know for a fact that not writing is going to be a lot worse in the long run than both of those other options."

Ignoring the strained look from Twilight, he hopped up onto a nearby chair and scooted himself over next to his weary companion. He could all but feel the pent-up frustration seeping from Twilight's stare into his scales, but he pushed the feeling into the back of his head as best he could and leaned over the table. "Here, let me see what you have written so far. Maybe I could help."

"No!" Like a mother bear protecting her cubs from a hunter, Twilight clutched the papers to her chest and hissed at Spike as he reached to grab them. "It's all terrible and awful and shameful. You would lose all respect for me as a pony if you were to read this, I know it. You can look at it once I've finished editing, proofreading, pre-reading, spell checking, comma checking, and proofreading again."

Spike's eye roll told her that he was not about to let the issue go so easily. "You're never going to be able to do any of that if you don't finish writing it first. Now give it here; it's important to let other people see your work so you can get different opinions on it."

This time when Twilight shied away from him, something almost akin to fear gripped her face. “I don’t think I... I can’t. This is my own work, and I'll be the one to fix it. I don't want anypony else seeing this abomination until I can at least try and correct all... this." She shakingly swiped a hoof over her stack of papers.

"Twilight, you just gestured to your entire paper."

"I know, that's where the problems are."

Spike's resulting sigh was muffled by his hand as it met his face. "Do you know that your obsessive compulsions drive me crazy?" The edge of his bemused voice dulled as he leaned over to run a claw through Twilight's unruly mane. He knew how much of a guilty pleasure that simple gesture was for her. Maybe it might help her finally calm down.

"You can trust me with this, Twilight. You will always be the greatest writer in the entire universe to me, regardless of whether you get a little stuck on one measly essay. The way I see it, any help will just make you all the better, so you won't get stuck next time."

His hands ceased parting the lavender strands of mane, eliciting a weak mewl of annoyance from Twilight, and reached for the papers splayed out on the desk. This time, the defensive author offered no resistance as he shuffled the loose pages back into order and began perusing them with all the slow caution of an experienced editor.

A mere minute stretched endlessly into space as Spike scanned the text. Finally, he set all but the final, unfinished page back down to the table and turned his soft, serpentine eyes back to Twilight.

"Well, your paper so far is—"

"Terrible? Awful? Mildly inaccurate?" Her head resumed its impassioned beating as she wailed, "I'm the worst. Please don't think of me any less because you know how bad of a writer I am."

"Terrible? Awful? Mildly—no, Twilight, it's just as good as all your other ones." Spike's surprisingly upbeat assessment halted the lavender head at the apex of its flight and bathed it in a look of pleasant confusion.

A pair of curious eyes met his own. He noted with no small amount of poorly-contained joy, that the lifeless glaze that trapped them began to recede back into nothing. "Really? It's not the single worst piece of written literature you've ever had the displeasure of laying eyes on?"

"No," he chuckled, the words spilling out of his mouth as if they were lighter than air, "it's perfectly up to par with everything else you've written in the past. There's just this one part here at the end—I assume that's the part that's got you acting all... you."

Propping himself up by his elbows on the desk, he angled the papers so that Twilight could see his proposed revisions. "Now listen to this sentence out loud: 'The danger that is posed by the spell's residual after-effects makes it unsafe for untrained sorcerers of a lesser magical bearing, and in addition to causing harmful clogging of naturally-flowing leylines, can act as a sort of cosmic kink in the proverbial hose of magic that turns the magic channels into invisible time bombs'."

"Was the whole 'kink in the cosmic hose' bit too much?"

"No, it wasn't that—I actually kind of liked the analogy. It's just that the sentence itself is a bit awkward to read. Have you tried rephrasing it so that the clause that starts with 'and in addition' is at the beginning of the sentence? It acts as a nice little segue from your last point, plus it will loosen the tone of it up a bit and make it more 'aesthetically pleasing'," he finished in his best hoity-toity high society accent.

Even Twilight's exasperated facehoof couldn't muffle the giggle that escaped her. "Of course, why didn't I see that earlier? If I just moved the dependant clause to the beginning of the sentence and connected the two independents with a semicolon, it'll allow for a more consistent flow of information, as well as making room... for..."

She blinked. "As well as making room for more data."

Her irises bulged like balloons filled to their bursting point with helium. The analogy seemed fitting, considering how the blood rushing to her head ignited a spark deep inside her previously-dormant mind and left her feeling lighter than air itself.

All the stress and fatigue fell off her shoulders. Her eyes shone with an excitement that would make Pinkie Pie jealous. "Spike, I think I know how to finish this—I think I know how to finish this! If I just round out this paragraph here in addition to the corrections I just stated, then I can lump all of the data into evenly proportioned paragraphs, thus establishing a consistent, but not overwhelming, flow of numbers while still allowing time to take detailed notes."

The academic portion of her brain exploded into a flurry of frenzied activity that seized her form and lit up her horn with all the spastic swiftness of Pinkie Pie on a sugar high. Spike hardly had time to duck out of the way and leap from his perch before a swirl of loose parchment cocooned the desk and momentarily obscured the unicorn from view. A new sound, that of a frantic quill scribbling on parchment, furiously attempting to keep pace with the whirring gears of its manipulator's mind, filled the air.

"Well then," he mumbled, brushing off a fine layer of dust from his scales, "looks like that crisis has been averted. Let's hope she doesn't get stuck again, or all of Equestria might be doomed—"

"Wait, Spike!"

He turned just in time to feel the telltale sizzle of a magical aura overtaking his body before he was pulled through the veil of paper and into the crushing embrace of one incredibly frazzled, incredibly grateful unicorn.

"Thankyouthankyouthankyou so much for your help. I think you've singlehoofedly saved my research paper."

Here, buried by the praise of a job well done and the surprisingly strong nuzzle of his companion, Spike found a singular moment of peace. Squirming against the furry forelegs that held him, he managed a muffled giggle. He couldn't care less that the stray splotch of ink from Twilight's coat that sank between his scales would take forever to clean out, or that all the stray papers floating around would take forever to reorganize.

He was needed. He was useful. And he was happy.

A dumb grin spread over his face.

Oh yeah. That's why I bother doing that.

Author's Notes:

Edited by the fabulous duo, Art inspired and AcreuBall.

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